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Quiz: Grading America's quality of education

Tue, 2015-01-13 03:53

Education Week gave Massachusetts, New Jersey and Wyoming the highest scores in the newspaper’s state-by-state rankings.

We reported on the nation's lowest Education Week grade last week.

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Quiz: Grading the nation’s quality of education

Tue, 2015-01-13 03:53

Education Week gave Massachusetts, New Jersey and Wyoming the highest scores in the newspaper’s state-by-state rankings.

We reported on the nation's lowest Education Week grade last week.

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PODCAST: Lithuania adopts the euro

Tue, 2015-01-13 03:00

First up on today's show, we'll talk about the numerous pharmaceutical buy-outs that have gone down in the last two days. Plus, why buy a ticket for the Titanic after it has struck an iceberg? It’s a question that some analysts are asking Lithuania after the tiny Baltic state became — at the beginning of this month — the 19th member of the European Union to join monetary union and adopt the euro.

The effect of cheap oil on the jet making industry

Tue, 2015-01-13 03:00

The two largest suppliers of passenger jets, Airbus and Boeing are continuing to rack up huge sales.

The two companies reported purchase contracts of around 1,500 new orders each for 2014. Together, Boeing and Airbus face a combined backlog of some 12,000 unfilled orders, enough to keep their profits stable for years to come.

But while falling oil prices are good news for airlines, the trend doesn’t necessarily bode well for the jet makers' biggest customers.

“There will be less oil revenue flowing into places like the Arabian Gulf where airlines like Emirates, Qatar and Etihad have been ordering planes by the hundreds,” says Seth Kaplan of Airline Weekly.

Airlines operate on notoriously thin margins and are always looking to cut costs. So, whether oil is cheap or expensive, Kaplan says newer planes with better technology will remain in demand.

However, cheaper gas could also prompt airlines to also keep aging, less fuel-efficient jets in service longer. Future investments, however, aren’t likely to change drastically based on the current price of oil.

"Remember the order cycle is pretty long,” says Webster O’Brien, an Airline planning strategist with ICF International.

“So, a lot of the investment is made based on, not on yesterday's fuel price, but essentially where the industry feels it's going overall," he says.

O’Brien notes that cheap gas does offer incentives for startups, who could expand into markets cut out by previous rounds of airlines contractions.

College students discover the dorm stay-cation

Tue, 2015-01-13 02:00

It’s lonely in Alexander Poling’s campus apartment at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County. Like most students, his three roommates are gone for the month-long winter break. Poling, a junior, has a job in a university warehouse.

“I just don’t want to make that commute every day,” he says.

Plus, he’d rather be here than back home in Sparks, Md.

“Honestly, I like being on my own,” he says. “Especially since I have cats at home, and I’m allergic to cats.”

As college campuses become more diverse, students have lots of reasons to stay during breaks. For the growing numbers of international and low-income students, a trip home isn’t always affordable. Others hang around for winter classes or internships. On many campuses, traditional breaks are giving way to a new college tradition: the staycation. 

“We’re seeing a definite spike in students’ need to have somewhere to be,” says Allison Avolio, director of residential life at Johns Hopkins University. “So I think a lot of institutions are looking to find ways to accommodate those needs.”

This school year, for the first time, Hopkins opted to keep its dorms open for Thanksgiving and Spring Breaks. Around 300 to 350 students decided to stay for Thanksgiving, Avolio says.

Sophomore Jaya Jasty from New Orleans was one of them.

“It was quite depressing,” he says. “There was not much to do.”

Jasty had plenty of company, though, when he came back early from winter break to take a couple pass/fail classes and hang out with friends. About half of the university’s 2300 or so residential students come back for what’s known as Intersession, before the spring semester gets underway.

“We usually play video games nonstop in our common room since nobody’s here,” Jasty says. “We go to a lot of restaurants now, just explore Baltimore.”

Hopkins doesn’t charge students extra to stay during break, but keeping the lights and heat on may pay off in other ways. Students who live on campus and are more “engaged” in college life tend to do better in school.

Lithuania embraces the Euro

Tue, 2015-01-13 02:00

Why buy a ticket for the Titanic after it has struck an iceberg?

It’s a question that some analysts are asking Lithuania after the tiny Baltic state became — at the beginning of this month — the 19th member of the European Union to join monetary union and adopt the euro.

Ten years after joining the European Union, and almost 25 years after declaring its independence from the Soviet Union, Lithuania is doing well. The economy is growing at a healthy rate of 4.3 percent per annum, the budget deficit is way down, and government debt to GDP is among the EU’s lowest. So why put that at risk by joining a currency zone which is mired in crisis, deflation and recession and could even break up? Why clamber aboard a sinking ship ?

“Lithuania was already on the Titanic,” explains Andy Birch of IHS Global Insight. "Lithuania’s currency, the litas, was tied to the euro, so if the euro collapsed it would have dragged down the litas with it anyway. By joining the eurozone, at least the Lithuanians can have some say in the management of the euro. And they do now have the backing of the European Central Bank.”

Many Lithuanians don’t agree. 40 percent were opposed to euro membership. Some even staged a mock funeral for the litas this month with a coffin and mock mourners, lamenting the death of their national currency and the loss of sovereignty that it entails. Lithuania can no longer devalue its own money or even set its own interest rates. Opponents of euro membership fear that Lithuania has surrendered the power to fully manage its own economy.

But Simon Tilford of the Centre for European Reform says that one of the main reasons for Lithuania joining the eurozone is political rather than economic. It’s motivated by fear of the old occupying power on its doorstep.

“All of the Baltic governments believe that eurozone membership will help protect them against Russian aggression,” he says.

Already a member of the NATO alliance, Lithuania wants to embed itself even more securely in the west to ward off the Russians.

“They are brutal and aggressive,” says Lithuanian President Dalia Grybauskaitė. "We lived with this neighbor for 50 years under occupation and we never, never ever will allow anybody to occupy us once more. “

Here is a real irony: Lithuania is giving up some of its sovereignty in order to guarantee its independence.

Does a big user base mean big success?

Tue, 2015-01-13 02:00

The other day Evan Williams a former CEO of Twitter and now the head of Medium, posted rant on Medium, the publishing platform he helped create. It caught our eye because it touched on a hot topic: Monthly Active Users. That’s the number of people who interact with your service or your platform at least once a month.

If you're a social media company in 2015, especially one that has gone or is going public, there's a good chance you're talking a lot about monthly active users. This number is used to measure the success of companies like Twitter or Buzzfeed. But Williams doesn't think that's the only metric for success. 

What kicked off his rant in the first place was a question about whether Instagram is bigger than Twitter because it has more users. But what exactly does bigger mean? Williams says it’s frustrating that so many people measure the success of consumer internet services — news, social media etc — solely by number of users. Twitter's CEO Dick Costolo is facing investor criticism right now because the social network isn't seen to be gaining new monthly active users fast enough.

Williams says that single number — the number of people who visit or use a site at least once a month — isn’t a fair metric. For one, it doesn't tell you how many people spent less than a minute on the site, and how many stayed longer. “What value are you measuring, either to the people or to the company?” he says.

Williams thinks time is “one of the other dimensions worth paying attention to,” but it’s an imperfect way to measure a site’s impact on people.

“The ultimate metric is probably not traceable,” he said. But for now, he’s interested in defining what bigger means.

 

College students discover the dorm stay-cation

Tue, 2015-01-13 02:00

It’s lonely in Alexander Poling’s campus apartment at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County. Like most students, his three roommates are gone for the month-long winter break. Poling, a junior, has a job in a university warehouse.

“I just don’t want to make that commute every day,” he says.

Plus, he’d rather be here than back home in Sparks, Md.

“Honestly, I like being on my own,” he says. “Especially since I have cats at home, and I’m allergic to cats.”

As college campuses become more diverse, students have lots of reasons to stay during breaks. For the growing numbers of international and low-income students, a trip home isn’t always affordable. Others hang around for winter classes or internships. On many campuses, traditional breaks are giving way to a new college tradition: the staycation. 

“We’re seeing a definite spike in students’ need to have somewhere to be,” says Allison Avolio, director of residential life at Johns Hopkins University. “So I think a lot of institutions are looking to find ways to accommodate those needs.”

This school year, for the first time, Hopkins opted to keep its dorms open for Thanksgiving and Spring Breaks. Around 300 to 350 students decided to stay for Thanksgiving, Avolio says.

Sophomore Jaya Jasty from New Orleans was one of them.

“It was quite depressing,” he says. “There was not much to do.”

Jasty had plenty of company, though, when he came back early from winter break to take a couple pass/fail classes and hang out with friends. About half of the university’s 2300 or so residential students come back for what’s known as Intersession, before the spring semester gets underway.

“We usually play video games nonstop in our common room since nobody’s here,” Jasty says. “We go to a lot of restaurants now, just explore Baltimore.”

Hopkins doesn’t charge students extra to stay during break, but keeping the lights and heat on may pay off in other ways. Students who live on campus and are more “engaged” in college life tend to do better in school.

Car sales in the era of $50-a-barrel oil

Tue, 2015-01-13 02:00

Detroit is hosting its annual North American International Auto Show this week and next. There are a few new green offerings on display, such as a new version Chevy’s Volt and an Audi Diesel plug-in hybrid. But with the price of gas so low, many consumers have lost some of their enthusiasm for fuel-efficient vehicles.

Edmunds' John O’Dell says as gas prices fell in the latter half of last year, truck and large SUVs sales ticked up and sales of smaller more fuel-efficient cars dropped slightly. But not all green cars were affected equally. O'Dell says consumers pulled back from hybrids, but electric cars remained popular with early adopters.

Ben Kallo, a senior research analyst at Robert W. Baird, says Teslas, in particular, have become an aspirational vehicle in the U.S., as BMW has been in the past.

You had me at "Like" on Facebook

Tue, 2015-01-13 01:30
3 million

That's how many copies of a special issue of Charlie Hedbo will be printed  on Wednesday, hitting newsstands in 16 languages. As reported by Bloomberg, the issue will feature the Prophet Muhammad on the cover.

84 percent

The portion of police raids that utilized flashbang grenades in Little Rock, Arkansas in 2014, almost exclusively in black neighborhoods. Those raids rarely turned up weapons or even drugs in some cases, a ProPublica investigation found, but the flashbang itself can be extremely dangerous.

1,500

That's about how many new orders each Airbus and Boeing reported in 2014. They also face a combined backlog of some 12,000 unfilled orders, enough to keep their profits stable for years to come. But some question how the tumbling price of oil will affect the jet makers' biggest customers

42-20

The score of the first-ever college football national championships, in which Ohio State upset Oregon to win the title. The Wall Street Journal has the strange story of "Mandrake," Oregon's frightening, muscular attempt at a new mascot to replace it's Donald Duck-aping "Puddles."

10

The number of Facebook "likes" a computer program must analyze to guess a subject's personality better than his or her coworker. The computer could only beat roommates and friends when it had about 70 "likes" to work with, the Washington Post reported, and it could beat a spouse with 300 likes.

Eight biggest takeaways from CES 2015

Mon, 2015-01-12 15:19

Here are the big takeaways from last week’s Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas. In all, it was a nerd’s paradise.

1. Drones!

For the first time, drones got their own section of the floor at the Consumer Electronics Show—thanks partly to projections by the Consumer Electronics Association that the category will post 50 percent growth in sales this year, to about $103 million. Most drone makers showed  small- and medium-sized machines for consumers and hobbyists.  But China-based Harwar, displayed imposing, large commercial-grade drones that cost $15,000, can fly 15,000 feet, and weigh five pounds.

2. Gesture Control

Electronics companies are working hard to alter how we interact with technology: forget keyboards and mice, think hand gestures.  Laptops with gesture control, powered by Intel’s new 3-D technology, will hit  stores within weeks. Farther into the future, look for gesture control  in cars. VW was showing some of that off.  And Razer showed virtual-reality goggles that let gamers interact with screens using just their hands — no gloves required.

3. No Control

We all know automakers are  more deeply integrating smartphones, apps and tablets into their cars. Next up, smarter cars. BMW showed a video demonstration in which a car, communicating via a Samsung smartwatch, turns itself on, drives through a parking garage and locates its owner. Nvidia is working on a cloud-based smart learning system for cars, so they can warn each other about road signs, people and other objects.

4. Talk to Me

The “Internet of things” was a very buzzy CES term. These are products that connect everyday objects in the home via processors, sensors, and Bluetooth or other Internet connections. All that’s needed now is standard platforms, designs, technologies, and coding languages, so that products can be made to work with any ecosystem in the future.

5. Super Televisions

Samsung rolled out a new digital platform, Tizen, which is supposed allow for better connectivity between the TV, the Internet, streaming services, and, eventually, connected home devices. Meanwhile, Sony hitched its wagon to the Android TV platform with the same goals in mind. The two companies also announced new 4K televisions, known interchangeably – if not completely accurately – as Ultra High Definition TV. The technology for 4k, which upgrades a typical 2 million-pixel HD TV screen into an 8 million-pixel TV screen, has been around for a couple of years. But the price has begun to come down, and more players are entering the market. The sector is expected to double its business in 2015 to $4.9 billion in revenue, according to the Consumer Electronics Association.

6. Streaming TV

Buried in all the new technology and gadgets was fairly big news from the pay-TV world. Dish Network announced its Internet-only, streaming-only TV offering, which will include many cable channels – even ESPN, hadn’t previously signed on with other streaming services. All for just $20 a month.

7. Just Wear It

Sales of wearable technology will grow 474 percent, this year, to $3.1 billion, says the Consumer Electronics Association. Much of that is being fueled by the expected debut of Apple’s smartwatch later this year. The show, though, had no shortage of smartwatches, digital bracelets and other fitness and health gadgets. There was even a baby thermometer in the form of a patch that can provide constant monitoring and app-based reporting on the baby’s temperature. One of the challenges facing wearables, though, is the availability of censors, which are mostly designed to work in mobile devices. Wearables need more durable, less power consuming sensors. And there aren’t enough of those right now.

8. Charge It!

Looking for better cell-phone charging technology? It’s coming. How about bolting a device to the bottom of your desk that turns the entire surface into a charging station? “The vision here is that we will eventually have the ability to charge your device everywhere,” says Kamil Grajski, President and Board Chairman of A4WP, the Alliance for Wireless Power.

We can’t wait.

'Smart' devices used to hunt for water leaks

Mon, 2015-01-12 14:32

Trillions of gallons of water are lost to leakage and bursts from pipeline utilities worldwide each year.

Amanda Little wrote a feature about the conservation efforts of one man, Amir Peleg, for Bloomberg Businessweek. Peleg is an entrepreneur who started TaKaDu, a water network management company that tracks leaks in pipes using data collected by sensors.

Little points out that the U.S. probably won’t be implementing anything like this for a while. “Utilities have very little incentive to implant these smart sensors in their networks and sort of absorb the costs of that,” she says.

TaKaDu primarily works with desert countries, or countries that have been experiencing drought conditions for decades. In those places, their pricing structures penalize water use. This differs from water use in the United States, which Peleg refers to as “all-you-can-eat water.”

Little describes a difference in attitude towards water: “There has been this consciousness in Israel and actually much of the world, that water is a life-or-death issue. It is the wellspring of their economy, and for that matter, their national security. Wars have been fought around water for thousands of years. In the U.S., we’re really only just beginning to develop this sort of consciousness around water.”

“This is a story about technology and a technological shift but it’s really a story about a changing of consciousness,” she says.

Quick facts about water:  

  • 8.6 trillion gallons of water worldwide are lost to leaks each year.
  • For every $1 spent on reducing water leaks, $5 worth of water can be saved.
  • 30-35 percent of water pumped through the pipelines of utilities worldwide is lost to leaks and bursts.

You can read Amanda Little’s piece, Israel’s Water Ninja, in its entirety online.

One man's water technology watershed moment

Mon, 2015-01-12 14:32

Trillions of gallons of water are lost to leakage and bursts from pipeline utilities worldwide each year.

Amanda Little wrote a feature about the conservation efforts of one man, Amir Peleg, for Bloomberg Businessweek. Peleg is an entrepreneur who started TaKaDu, a water network management company that tracks leaks in pipes using data collected by sensors.

Little points out that the U.S. probably won’t be implementing anything like this for a while. “Utilities have very little incentive to implant these smart sensors in their networks and sort of absorb the costs of that,” she says.

TaKaDu primarily works with desert countries, or countries that have been in drought conditions for decades. In those places, their pricing structures penalize water use. This differs from water use in the United States, which Peleg refers to as “all-you-can-eat water.”

Little describes a difference in attitude towards water: “There has been this consciousness in Israel and actually much of the world, that water is a life or death issue. It is the wellspring of their economy, and for that matter, their national security. Wars have been fought around water for thousands of years. In the US, we’re really only just beginning to develop this sort of consciousness around water.”

“This is a story about technology and a technological shift but it’s really a story about a changing of consciousness,” she says.

Quick facts about water:  

  • 8.6 trillion gallons of water worldwide are lost to leaks each year
  • For every $1 spent on reducing water leaks, $5 worth of water can be saved
  • 30-35 percent of water pumped through the pipelines of utilities worldwide is lost to leaks and bursts

You can read Amanda Little’s piece, Israel’s Water Ninja, in its entirety online.

Obama unveils cybersecurity proposals

Mon, 2015-01-12 13:30

President Obama announced a series of cybersecurity proposals Monday, in advance of the State of the Union address. He wants to require companies to notify consumers of a data breach within 30 days, and he says more companies will soon provide free credit scores. Those plans only address what happens after a breach, though. Are companies learning from the hacks at Target, Sony and Home Depot?

President proposes rules for companies hit by breaches

Mon, 2015-01-12 13:30

President Obama announced a series of cybersecurity proposals Monday, ahead of the State of the Union address. He wants to require companies to notify consumers of a data breach within 30 days, and he says more companies will soon provide free credit scores. Those plans only address what happens after a breach, though. Are companies learning from the hacks at Target, Sony and Home Depot?

Lovin' the McDonald's ad – and hatin' it

Mon, 2015-01-12 13:30

A new ad from McDonald's that aired during the Golden Globes is getting almost as much buzz on Twitter as a celebrity’s red carpet outfit. Reactions range from lovin' it: I think the @McDonalds spot that aired during the #GoldenGIobes2015 is the most human the brand has ever felt. Not bad for fast food. — Miranda Lemon (@lemonmira) January 12, 2015 To those who make the ad seem like a McDisaster: @McDonalds I just threw up in my mouth watching your commercial during the #GoldenGlobes. Desperate attempt to rescue your image. Blech! — Jessica Boaman (@JessicaBoaman) January 12, 2015 Against a musical backdrop of kids singing, the ad shows local franchises using their signs to support their communities — including "We remember 9/11" and "Keep jobs in Toledo." The chain also has a blog telling the stories behind each marquee. It's unclear if the company's portrayal of itself as a community-builder will be enough to strengthen its ailing brand. The whole thing has us wondering... what's the sign say at the McDonald's where you live? Is it more "Happy 30th Ed and Beth" or "Over 99 billion served"? Let us know on Facebook.

Lovin' the McDonald's Ad?

Mon, 2015-01-12 13:30

A new ad from McDonald's that aired during the Golden Globes is getting almost as much buzz on Twitter as a celebrity’s red carpet outfit. Reactions range from lovin' it: I think the @McDonalds spot that aired during the #GoldenGIobes2015 is the most human the brand has ever felt. Not bad for fast food. — Miranda Lemon (@lemonmira) January 12, 2015 To those that make the ad seem like a McDisaster: @McDonalds I just threw up in my mouth watching your commercial during the #GoldenGlobes. Desperate attempt to rescue your image. Blech! — Jessica Boaman (@JessicaBoaman) January 12, 2015 Against a musical backdrop of kids singing, the ad shows local franchises using their signs to support their communities — everything from "We remember 9/11" to "Keep jobs in Toledo." The chain even has a blog telling the stories behind each marquee. It's unclear if the company's portrayal of itself as a community-builder will be enough to strengthen its ailing brand. The whole thing has us wondering... what's the sign say at the McDonald's where you live? Is it more "Happy 30th Ed and Beth" or "Over 99 billion served"? Let us know on Facebook.

What makes medical debt detrimental

Mon, 2015-01-12 12:37

About 43 million Americans have overdue medical debt on their credit reports, according to a report released by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.

Julie Linsey, a part-time knitting instructor from Aurora, Illinois, is one of them. Hospitalized in 2005, she soon found herself in debt.

“It piled up a whole lot of bills and then the recurring, follow-up visits and prescription costs just really hit us hard,” she says.

When her doctor stopped taking her insurance, she ended up paying her bills out of pocket. Linsey says she faced "hundreds of dollars a month in bills." 

As the CFPB report highlights, medical debt isn’t the same as other debt. Many small collection agencies, with differing reporting and recordkeeping practices, try to collect the debt. In addition, medical debt is often involuntary. Someone could wake up after getting hit by a bus owing thousands of dollars.

Judith Fox, a consumer law professor at Notre Dame University, says consumers often think their insurance already paid a medical bill or don't realize a balance is due. 

“Sometimes [an] insurance company did pay for it, but they pay for it late and it goes to collection,” Fox says.

Lenders sometimes “park” unpaid debts on a report, even if they are beyond the statute of limitations. This means that the next lender to examine the report  will see an unpaid bill, even years after the fact. A Fox client who was trying to rent a new place ran into this problem.

“The landlord pulled up the credit report, and there was this old debt on there and they said: ‘Well, you’ve got collections, you’ve got to pay that or we won’t rent to you,’” Fox says. “Legally, they really didn’t have to pay it, but if they wanted to rent the apartment, they did.”

Inaccuracy is a widespread problem, according to Gail Hillebrand, associate director for consumer education and engagement at the CFPB.

“There are lots of smaller collectors, and they have a variety of practices. Some will put it on your credit report when it’s only 30 days late,” Hillebrand says. “It’s very hard to tell if you owe the money, when you owe the money, and how much of it you owe because of the intersection of the medical billing and what’s happening with your insurance company.”

Linsey had the same problem. Even after paying, it took time before the debt collectors updated their information and stopped calling her. “After a while I turned off my phone,” she says, with a sigh.

Until new rules are written, there’s really only one thing consumers can do: Keep a close eye on their credit reports.

Texan winks, plays 'let's make a deal' with customers

Mon, 2015-01-12 11:55

A furniture dealer in Houston — arguably the center of the American oil industry — is offering quite the deal: If a customer spends $7,000 or more at his store, he'll refund the money if oil is going for $85 per barrel or more by Dec. 31, 

Current forecasts put crude somewhere between $50 and $75 by the end of the year. 

So, you know, caveat emptor.

Auto shows are in the business of creating a buzz

Mon, 2015-01-12 11:44

More than 750 cars are on display at Detroit's annual auto show, which opened for media previews Monday. It is one of the largest auto shows in the country – setting up the exhibition space takes months, says Rod Alberts, executive director of the North American International Auto Show, which is the Detroit show’s official name. Lighting installation alone took two weeks.

Yet for all that work, no cars are available for sale. So what’s the point?

A primary goal, Alberts says, is to help auto manufacturers get media attention for their new cars. David Cole, a former professor of auto engineering and chairman of AutoHarvest.org, says manufacturers also use auto shows to see what upcoming offerings resonate with the public.

 

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